Two Authors

Written by  Andrea Emiliani

The friendship and historic symbiosis between Leopoldo Cicognara and Pietro Giordani.

Pietro Giordani was born in Piacenza on 1 January 1774. In 1797 he entered the Benedictine monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza but left without taking orders. A supporter of the Napoleonic regime, in 1807 he wrote a Panegyric on the Sacred Majesty of Napoleon and the following year obtained the position of assistant secretary of the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna which, however, he had to abandon in 1815: with the arrival of the Restoration he was considered suspect for his liberal republican ideals. In 1816, he began his celebrated correspondence with Giacomo Leopardi to whom he eventually paid a visit in 1818, accompanying him during his first travels outside of the small village of Recanati to Macerata. He continued to visit him frequently during the following years. Giordani encouraged Leopardi, helping to foster his intellectual and cultural development and they developed a deep and lasting affection for one another: Leopardi described him as his dear and good father figure.

The inheritance left to him by his father in 1817 assured Giordani’s economic and also intellectual independence. He lived in Piacenza, Bologna and finally Milan, where along with Vincenzo Monti and Giuseppe Acerbi he edited the classicist magazine La Biblioteca Italiana, until leaving on account of the Austrian sympathies of the director Acerbi. In Florence, he subscribed in 1823 to the liberal magazine Antologia run by Giovanni Pietro Vieusseux. In January 1825, it published his letter to the Marchese Gino Capponi, proposing the publication of a collection of the works of major Italian authors (Scelta de’ Prosatori Italiani), from Dante to contemporary writers, in volumes costing at most 24 scudos. Nonetheless, he always maintained a detached attitude toward this magazine because it propounded a radical renewal of the public functions of the intellectual, becoming an integral part of middle-class development. Giordani rejected this vision of a ‘market of letters’ and the economic rationalization of society and culture, faithful to his aristocratic conception of the contemplative poet.

After the suppression of the uprisings of 1821, there followed as usual a period of retreat. Intellectuals abandoned the prospect of revolution in favour of a more moderate reformist program, and the centre of progressive culture moved from Milan to Florence. The uprisings of 1831 would find the intellectuals absent altogether and even Giordani found himself mistrusted as a result. In his final years, he lived in Parma, where he was imprisoned for three months in 1834 and where he died in 1848, during the temporary success of the anti-Austrian riots. Leopoldo Cicognara, the distinguished art historian, was born in Ferrara on 26 November 1767. Initially concerned with the mathematical and physical sciences, he was known to men like Spallanzani and Scarpa, but he obstinately chose to change path. He resided for some years in Rome, devoting himself to painting and the study of antiquities; later he visited Naples and Sicily where his first work was published, in Palermo. After exploring the island, he travelled to Florence, Milan, Bologna and Venice, acquiring a thorough archaeological knowledge of these and other cities. In 1795 he settled in Modena and was engaged in politics, becoming a member of the legislative body, a councillor of state, and a plenipotentiary minister of the Cisalpine Republic at Turin. Napoleon decorated him with the iron crown; and in 1808 he was made president of the Academy of the Fine Arts at Venice, where he worked for many years.

In 1808 his treatise Del bello ragionamenti appeared, dedicated to Napoleon. Subsequently he published his Storia della scultura dal suo risorgimento in Italia al secolo di Napoleone [History of sculpture from its birth in Italy until the century of Napoleon] in which he praised Canova as the pinnacle of artistic achievement in all eras. He was encouraged and advised in the composition of this work by Giordani and by Wilhelm Schlegel. The work was intended to complete the endeavours of Winckelmann and D’Agincourt. After the fall of Napoleon in 1814, received the patronage of Francis I of Austria, and between 1815 and 1820 he published Le fabbriche più cospicue di Venezia [The chief workshops of Venice]. His book Omaggio delle Provincie Venete alla maestà di Carolina Augusta was dedicated to the Empress Caroline.

Reduced to poverty, Cicognara lost the favour of the emperors thanks to his political opinions. He left Venice for Rome and his library was put up for sale. In 1821 at Pisa he published a catalogue of thirty years of dedicated work, which was purchased in its entirety by Pope Leo XII, and added to the Vatican library. Cicognara’s other works include the Memorie storiche de litterati ed artisti Ferraresi (1811), the Memorie spettanti alla storia della calcografia (1831) and dissertations on painting, sculpture, engraving and related subjects. Cicognara’s work in the academy at Venice had important results, increasing the number of professors, improving courses of study, instituting prizes, and creating a gallery for the exhibition of Venetian paintings. He died in Venice on 5 March 1834.